Way back in 2009, when fiscal austerity was still in vogue, Congressman Tom Price was among the most hawkish lawmakers on the issue of government spending.
“This is just another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok,” he cried on CNBC, denouncing the use of private jets by Congress.
But at some point, the former orthopedist lost his way.
Earlier this year, after he was nominated by Donald Trump to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, reports emerged that Price had “traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks.”
Subsequent reports fingered Price for getting “a sweetheart deal” on a biotech investment and for introducing legislation to benefit a medical company that he had invested in and that later contributed to his campaign.
Yes, the good life seemed to go to Price’s head, and the gravy train hasn’t stopped since he joined the Trump administration.
Earlier this week, we learned that Price had taken a page from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s playbook and decided to spend thousands of dollars in taxpayer money on private jets when commercial flights (or Amtrak, or a car) would have sufficed.
Now, new details of Price’s jet habit reveal that the initial flights flagged by Politico weren’t just a one-time expense.
According to a follow-up report, Price has taken at least 24 flights on chartered planes since early May, at an estimated cost of $300,000 to taxpayers.
In the second week of September alone, the H.H.S. secretary reportedly took five flights that clocked in at around $60,000, on trips to Maine, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, the latter of which is approximately 140 miles from D.C.
Unsurprisingly, there was backlash. But perhaps we all judged too soon? Maybe Price—whose predecessor in her five-plus years on the job took one chartered plane to a remote area of Alaska that was otherwise unreachable—had a really good reason that he didn’t get the chance to explain?
Like that he simply couldn’t bear the idea of potentially being delayed at an airport for a commercial flight, like some kind of commoner? Per The Washington Post:
After Tom Price was sworn in as health and human services secretary, the Georgia Republican faced an inconvenience known to millions of Americans: His flight was delayed, an aide said, and he was forced to spend hours at an airport. The delay left Price a no-show at an early public appearance his office helped plan.
Price knew well the pain of flying to and from Washington as a member of Congress for 12 years. But now he was the head of a trillion-dollar federal agency and one of President Trump’s point men to fulfill the campaign promise of repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Flight delays and no-shows would not do. So began a practice in Price’s office of turning to private, chartered jet travel, aides say, to ferry the Cabinet official to and from meetings around the country—often at a cost to taxpayers of thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars, per trip.
It’s all in the name of the people, of course. “This is Secretary Price, getting outside of D.C., making sure he is connected with the real American people,” Charmaine Yoest, Price’s assistant secretary for public affairs, explained to the Post.
“Wasting four hours in an airport and having the secretary cancel his event is not a good use of taxpayer money.”
Of course, the incident wherein Price was delayed happened just once, according to his spokesperson’s account.
But apparently it was so distressing that Price decided the mere thought of being inconvenienced again was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money.
Here’s the part where we remind you, if you missed it the first time, that Price, who is working to cut billions of dollars in health-care subsidies and slash funding from the National Institutes of Health—citing “tough choices [that] had to be made to identify and reduce spending within the department”—previously appeared on CNBC to lecture members of the government for using private jets.
ncidentally, billionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the closest thing the Trump administration has to its very own living, breathing, 19th-century robber baron, was spotted on a commercial flight from New York to D.C. on Wednesday.
Even the otherwise clueless Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, apparently knows enough to pay for her own travel when she’s trying to avoid the huddled masses.
On Friday, a spokeswoman for HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson said the agency will be reviewing “the justification made by Price and his staff for the trips.”